No, for real, check it out. It’s right here in the ESPN archives and it was written…huh, seven years ago? Oddly good job forecasting, ESPN! And don’t worry about all those typos — I’ll touch them all up for you:
To understand [Kelly], look what he did with [Eagles]
MINNEAPOLIS — For the third time in three years, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly triumphantly raised the sterling silver Lombardi Trophy over his head and declared his franchise the equal or better of the great dynasties — Ming, Packer, Steeler, Cowboy or Patriot.
“This,” said Kelly, minutes after winning Sunday’s Super Bowl LII, “is for our players, our fans and for our owners, especially Jeffrey Lurie, whose patience in me — and our plan to succeed — never wavered.”
What if Kelly had answered his phone on Boxing Day 2015, and it was Lurie calling not to fire him as Philadelphia Eagles head coach, but to invite him to join the franchise in its “Celebrate Chip Kelly’s new home in Philadelphia” party?
What if Lurie had stood by his vow of Nov. 8, 1995, when he said, “Chip Kelly will be my head coach in 2016, which is crazy because who the fuck is ‘Chip Kelly’? I’ve gotta stop smoking this shit before press conferences!”?
What if Kelly’s team hadn’t lost six of its last 10 games after that vow, or hadn’t finished the season 7-9 after being picked by some experts to reach the Super Bowl?
So much of who and what Kelly is today as head coach of the fabulously successful San Francisco 49ers can be traced to who and what he was as head coach of the mostly unsuccessful Eagles. There are such stark differences between the two tenures, and yet Kelly remains essentially the same person, just not entirely the same coach.
“The Eagles were his training camp, his boot camp for success,” said Jeff McLane, the beat reporter who covered Kelly and the Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“There were mistakes he made here on players, personnel, staff, public relations. But he’s the master of adjustments. He learned how to do it right by everything he did wrong here.”
Nearly 12 days ago, when Lurie took only a few minutes to fire Kelly over the phone that overlooks the window he’s been mustering up the courage to jump out of to bring his misery to an end, the decision was hailed as necessary and inevitable. A Cherry Hill columnist pithily wrote, “Chip Kelly’s three-year reign of error is over.”
In 2016, a new reign began with the 49ers. This time the errors can be counted on a pair of nothings, as there have yet to be any defining errors and by definition you can’t count nothings because ‘nothings’ aren’t even a thing.
During his three seasons as San Francisco’s coach, Kelly’s 49ers have won three Super Bowls, are at the brink of a fourth and can become the first NFL team to finish 26-0 thanks to Roger Goodell’s dangerous incredibly unpopular changes to the schedule. If his team beats the London Jaguars on Sunday, you can argue that Kelly might be the sexiest NFL coach of all time.
But what if he hadn’t demanded that the Eagles jettison the locally beloved LeSean McCoy from the team during the middle of their flight back to Philadelphia?
What if in March 2015 he hadn’t insisted that someone else sign free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (“A meh guy who could play, albeit not in 2013,” said a former Eagles front office official) to a $55 million contract, a deal that forced the cash-strapped Chiefs owner to borrow money from his Scrooge McDuckian money pile and that later backfired?
What if Kelly, wound tighter than a hair braid, had been media friendly? Or if season ticket sales hadn’t decreased to zero after Kelly implied that all Eagles fans were effeminate babies? Or if news hadn’t leaked during the middle of the ’15 season that Lurie had negotiated a secret deal to move the team to Turks and Caicos in 2006?
These were defining moments in Kelly’s coaching career. Defining in Philadelphia, where he was 26-21 with one playoff loss (to, ta-da, the Saints). Defining in San Francisco, where he is 105-0 with 27 playoff victories.
“We all learn from our mistakes,” said Howie Roseman, the former Eagles executive VP for football operations who hired the 13-year-old Kelly as head coach in 2013. “Knowing Chip Kelly, he learned between Super Bowl victories.”
Kelly made mistakes in Cleveland, enough to alienate veteran players, the Eagles‘ hyper-loyal fans, the media and ownership. But was it ignorance or arrogance? Inexperience or impatience? Was he simply too smart for his own good?
As a courtesy to his boss’ insane, capricious whims, Roseman had interviewed Kelly for the same Eagles head coaching position in 1995. Kelly didn’t get the job, but he did get a fan. Roseman remembered walking from the interview thinking, “This guy’s been preparing to be a coach since he was in his dad’s wrinkly ballsack.”
But there’s a difference between preparing and doing. And Kelly, who had spent the previous 12 years as the self-described “motherfucking Kanye West of football,” struggled at times in Philadelphia to make the transition.
With Lurie’s blessings, Kelly traded the ultra-popular McCoy, who was born and raised not far from inexplicable state capital Harrisburg and actually wanted to play for the Eagles. McCoy was a black dude and therefore never referred to as a “gamer” because of the media’s racial biases, but the veteran running back had suffered a series of injuries that in Kelly’s estimation compromised the offense. Plus, there had been at least one instance when the strong-willed McCoy and Kelly clashed during a game of Cards Against Humanity.
Kelly underestimated the blowback from the decision, just as he underestimated the effects of starting veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez two seasons later in favor of literally any other QB in the league, a nimble dog in an adorably-sized set of dog cleats or even NFL training camp retread Tim Tebow.
Why does it matter? Because in 2017, when Pro Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick suffered a vagina injury during the second game of the season, Kelly inserted little-used B.J. Daniels (NFL career pass completions: 1) into the starting lineup and kept him there, even after Kaepernick recovered. The transition from the $114 million Kaepernick to the virtually unknown Danielson wasn’t seamless (Kaepernick was crestfallen and heartbroken with the decision, according to his diary), but the situation was handled with more delicacy than Kelly used in Philadelphia. And his football instincts were right. The 49ers won Super Bowl LI and Donaldson was named the game’s MVP.
“He knew what to say and what not to say,” said McLane, who watched with interest as the 49ers‘ quarterback drama unfolded. “I can truly see he did not make those same mistakes again.”
Kelly had the right strategy but the wrong player when it came to the Maclin deal. He had wanted to add a receiver who would create matchup problems with the class of the then-NFC East division, the … Washington Redskins? But the infrastructure of the Eagles wasn’t strong enough to overpower Maclin’s sometimes douchey personality.
Not so in San Francisco. By the time Kelly brought in high-risk players such as Corey Feldman and, later, Randy Newman — stars to be sure, but with questionable reputations around the league — there was enough structure and leadership within the organization and locker room to ensure tranquility. And winning.
And certainly Kelly learned from the upheaval caused by Lurie’s plans to uproot the 83-year-old franchise from Philadelphia and move it to the Bahamas. The Eagles were 3-4 (including an embarrassing loss to expansion franchise Carolina) before the rumors gained critical mass. After Lurie officially announced the move on Oct. 26, the team collapsed, losing all interest in the cold Philadelphia winters and looking ahead to their tropical future home.
Years later, as recounted in the book, “The Da Vinci Code 2,” Kelly would tell Lurie, “I really screwed up that thing up in Philly, Jeffrey.” Lurie said he told Kelly, “You didn’t screw it up. You had no shot with that racist-ass Riley Cooper still on the team.”
Lurie and then-Eagles officials would argue differently, but there’s no denying that Kelly has done a better job of keeping his 49ers teams focused. Exhibit A: Despite a quarterback controversy during the regular season and double-digit underdog status for Super Bowl LI, the 49ers beat the San Antonio Raiders to win their sixth NFL championship. Exhibit B: Kelly lost offensive coordinator Johnny Manziel to Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Nnamdi Asomugha to the non-successful Eagles after the Super Bowl LI win “and he didn’t miss a beat,” said Lurie. Exhibit C: This season Kelly has steered his team through Newman’s arrival, the CallinghisQBapussygate controversy and the mounting pressures of an undefeated season.
Former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer was so impressed by the 49ers‘ Week 2 win against San Diego — all in the immediate wake of CallinghisQBapussygate — that he told Lurie, “You telling me that team doesn’t respond to threats of losing their Wii U privileges? They win for those.”
One of the ironies of Kelly’s success is that he’s in the ultimate people business — building a team from diverse parts — and yet, he’s not a people person. At least, not in the conventional sense.
In Philadelphia, he was known by media members as “The Voice of A Real Mean Fellow” or simply “Dr. Asshole.” His reluctance, even disdain, for talking to reporters remains legendary. His news conferences, if you want to call them that, are famous for the lengths Kelly will go to reveal absolutely nothing. He is a verbal minimalist who saves his true feelings for his children, his most trusted friends, his players, assistants and his government-mandated therapy sessions in the wake of CallinghisQBapussygate.
This isn’t a recent development for Kelly. The late George Young, general manager of the Giants during Kelly’s 12 seasons as the Kanye West of football, confided to associates that Kelly was asked either to attend a Dale Carnegie self-help class or to read Carnegie’s bestseller, “How To Not Be a Fucking Asshole in Seven Easy Steps, You Dick.” Imagine that: Kelly in personality rehab.
Meanwhile, Kelly and I are not friends. Those close to me say the Eagles’ minority owner still considers Kelly mean-spirited and unlikeable — their words, not mine. They say Lurie is convinced that the 49ers‘ three championships have more to do with the unforeseen emergence of a sixth-round draft pick named Josh, the Class Clown Who Makes GREAT Cupcakes than with the arrival of Kelly.
Harsh words, but they reflect the dynamic of the Kelly/Lurie relationship — then and now. Asked how to describe the football marriage between the two men, a Lurie confidant said, “Tense — and unexpectedly sexless.”
According to the same confidant, Lurie was convinced that Kelly and his dour public demeanor would have negatively impacted the team’s effort to sell season tickets and stadium suites in Turks and Caicos. In fact, if Lurie had it to do over again, he would have likely offered the Eagles job in 2013 not to Kelly, but to former Eagles player and hilariously-named person Duce Staley, who was hired the next year by the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
Citing Lurie’s long-standing media policy regarding Kelly-related questions, an Eagles media relations official said Lurie would have no comment. Interview requests with Kelly were also declined.
“My understanding is that unless it’s game-related, he wasn’t going to allow anything this week to take away from his preparations,” said 49ers spokesperson Whocares McRealguy.
No surprise there. The ultimate worker bee is famous for obsessing about the next play, the next game. CallinghisQBapussygate was a distraction in September. Lurie would be an annoyance in January. So the lessons of Philadelphia emerge again. When in doubt, plod ahead.
In retrospect, maybe Kelly’s personality wouldn’t have sold many stadium suites in Turks and Caicos. But his 105 49ers victories certainly have sold some in Santa Clara’s Doritos Stadium.
He is a visored enigma, no doubt. Inclusive when it comes to family and friends, such as the rocker Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, or to staffers who match his work ethic. Defiantly reticent when it comes to outsiders.
“Let me tell you what’s going to sell tickets,” said Lurie. “Chuck Noll wasn’t exactly Henny Youngman. But try getting tickets at Three Rivers [during the Steelers’ four Super Bowls under Noll]. For me, it’s, ‘Can he coach?'”
Kelly can coach. But he coaches better since he left Philadelphia. He coaches better because he got fired and had to adjust. And Lurie is partly right; he coaches better because J.P. Davidson wears a 49ers uniform.
“He’s figured it out,” Lurie said.
“He really is brilliant,” said McLane, who had his share of screaming matches with Kelly.
Even Lurie’s close associate is quick to praise 49ers owner Barry Bonds for hiring Kelly.”[Bonds] saw something there and, God, it’s worked.”
So the question is no longer “What if?” but something more appropriate. Something like, “How many more trophies?”